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Parks service remains important to local people

Birmingham City Council’s 2017 budget consultations revealed that the parks service is valuable to local people.

Sunshine in Cannon Hill Park, Edgbaston(Image: Darren Quinton)

In times of austerity, as now, we seem to focus on the cost of things, rather than their value. Birmingham City Council’s 2017 budget consultations did, however, reveal what is valuable to local people. When asked what was most important to them, the parks service consistently came in the top five, out of 25, services.

People seem to instinctively understand the value of parks and open spaces to their physical and mental health. As the consultation report says: ‘ For the parks service, there was general concern about the environment of the city and respondents feeling that parks were important as a “green lung” for biodiversity, for health and as one of the last free places within the city. The park ranger service was specifically commented upon both online and in the public meetings, including how the amount of activity the rangers generate with the help of friends of the parks groups was extremely important in achieving many of the city’s aims.

As a result there is to be a 10%, rather than 20%, cut in the parks service budget. This means the number of park keepers will be reduced from 30 to 11, but there will be the same number of rangers. Other reductions include losing some of the shrub and flower beds on the City’s roads, and less frequent grass cutting. Whilst the latter may be good for nature, the overall effects of the cuts will mean less greenery around the City, less support for friends and other community groups, and less healthy environments for all.

It is easy to blame the Council for these problems, but they are faced with impossible choices. They have already had to reduce their total expenditure by £590M, and must find another £96.6M of savings by 2020. The old principles of public goods paid for by public money seem to have disappeared. The issue now is how to provide these vital services, and how much of the burden can, or should, be transferred to volunteers, friends’ groups and charities. This is not an ‘us and them’ situation. How far this process should go is something that the City and people of Birmingham, and other local authorities, have to work on together. Groups like Birmingham Open Spaces Forum and the Greener Birmingham Coalition are on the case.

They, and others, should keep in mind the difference between cost and value.

Twitter: @PeteWestbrom

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